Richard Whittall:

The Globalist's Top Ten Books in 2016: The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer

Middle East Eye: "

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer is one of the weightiest, most revelatory, original and important books written about sport"

“The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer has helped me immensely with great information and perspective.”

Bob Bradley, former US and Egyptian national coach: "James Dorsey’s The Turbulent World of Middle Eastern Soccer (has) become a reference point for those seeking the latest information as well as looking at the broader picture."
Alon Raab in The International Journal of the History of Sport: “Dorsey’s blog is a goldmine of information.”
Play the Game: "Your expertise is clearly superior when it comes to Middle Eastern soccer."
Andrew Das, The New York Times soccer blog Goal: "No one is better at this kind of work than James Dorsey"
David Zirin, Sports Illustrated: "Essential Reading"
Change FIFA: "A fantastic new blog'

Richard Whitall of A More Splendid Life:
"James combines his intimate knowledge of the region with a great passion for soccer"

Christopher Ahl, Play the Game: "An excellent Middle East Football blog"
James Corbett, Inside World Football

Monday, November 28, 2016

Soccer privatization: A template for Saudi reform

By James M. Dorsey

Saudi Arabia has approved the privatization of state-owned sports clubs as part of Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s drive to streamline bureaucracy, curb public spending, diversify the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy, and upgrade its autocracy.

The effort to clean up the sports sector follows the rare admission earlier this year of a match-fixing scandal as well as a financial crisis that offered a glimpse of the daunting task and pitfalls involved in Prince Mohammed’s reform plan.

The kingdom’s Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA) headed by Prince Mohammed earlier this month ordered sports authorities to create a fund that would provide loans to financially troubled clubs. The council said the fund would create 40,000 new jobs but offered no further detail.

Similarly, few details were provided about how the clubs, some of which are controlled by members of the ruling Al Saud family, would be privatized beyond a statement saying that the council of ministers chaired by King Salman had decided to turn them into commercial ventures.

Cleaning up soccer, the kingdom’s most popular sport, serves to achieve Prince Mohammed’s goals of greater international competitiveness as well as engagement of Saudis in exercise that were spelled out in his Vision 2030, a framework for economic and social reform announced last April.

Privatization of sports clubs, particularly those that have premier league soccer teams, is however where political risk and economic necessity meet in Prince Mohammed’s effort to introduce economic and social reform while ensuring that his ruling Al Saud family retains tight political control.

The clean-up of Saudi soccer constitutes a microcosm of how the government and the Al Sauds hope to root out corruption, introduce some degree of transparency, and cater to the aspirations of a young population without surrendering absolute political control.

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) sought to demonstrate the government’s sincerity by relegating in July Al Majma’ah-based premier league club Al Mujjazel to the second division for having fixed a match with rival Al Jeel Club. Match fixing had helped Al Mujjazel graduate from the 3rd to the 1st League in a mere two years.

The punishment of Al Mujjazel followed the relegation three years ago of two handball teams, Al Safa FC and Mudhar HC, the first ever in the kingdom’s sports history. The relegations constituted a clear message in a country in which members of the ruling family often interfered with referees and management when clubs were not performing to their liking.

The relegation also followed publication earlier this year of a schedule for clubs to pay off their debts and the imposition of a ban on the hiring of foreign players.

Included in the schedule were Al Ahli Saudi FC which is linked to Prince Faisal bin Khaled bin Abdullah, Al Hilal FC that is headed by Prince Nawaf bin Saad, Al Shabab FC that falls under the auspices of Prince Khaled Bin Sultan, and Al Nasser FC which is controlled by Prince Faisal bin Turki bin Nasser.

Sources close to the federation noted that the schedule listed for Al Nasser only $453,400 in debts to the soccer association even though the club’s total debt is asserted to be approximately $70 million. If correct, it would make Al Nasser Saud Arabia’s most indebted club after Al Ittihad FC, which owes $76 million. Al Ahli’s total debt was listed at $40 million, Al Hilal’s at $36.5 million and Al Shabab at $19.4 million.

“The game of football played by all sports clubs in Saudi Arabia is just like the competition between the business enterprises in which each football club tries to become the best team in the country and hence gain name, fame and superiority over other clubs, or rather say superiority over other princes who are behind the rival clubs,” wrote Sharaf Sabri in a book published more than a decade ago, The House of Saud in Commerce: A Study of Royal Entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Sabri put his finger on the problem the federation is likely to have in cleaning up the kingdom’s premier soccer league, a problem Prince Mohammed will encounter across the board with members of the ruling family having a finger in many pies and not wanting to see their perks compromised.

If that were not difficult enough, the government will also want to ensure that privatization does not weaken its control of sports in general and of soccer in particular given the pitch’s proven potential of serving as a rallying point for anti-government sentiment in a region governed by regimes that seek to tightly control all public space.

Saudi Arabia has long had a complex relationship with soccer because it evokes passions similar to those sparked by religion. Saudi clerics rolled out mobile mosques during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to persuade fans gathered in cafes to watch matches to observe obligatory prayer times.

The government, in the development in recent years of the kingdom’s first national sports plan, initially considered emphasizing individual rather than team sports because of soccer’s political volatility, but was forced to drop the idea given the game’s enormous popularity.

The risks involved in a loss of control of soccer were evident in 2013 when a Facebook page entitled Nasrawi Revolution demanded the resignation of Prince Faisal, a burly nephew of the late King Abdullah who sports a moustache and chin hair, as head of Al Nasser. A You Tube video captured Prince Faisal seemingly being pelted and chanted against as he rushed off the soccer pitch after rudely shoving a security official aside.

The campaign against Prince Faisal followed the unprecedented resignation a year earlier of Prince Nawaf bin Feisal as head of the SAFF, the first Gulf royal to be persuaded by public pressure to step down. Prince Nawaf’s resignation led to the election of a commoner, storied former player Ahmed Eid Alharbi, who is widely viewed as a reformer and proponent of women’s soccer in a country in which women struggle to secure the right to physical exercise and education and participation in sports.

“The Saudis are extremely worried. Soccer clubs rather than the mosque are likely to be the centre of any revolution. Kids go more to stadiums than to mosques. They are not religious, they are not ruled by religious dogma,” said Washington-based Saudi dissident Ali al-Ahmad, who heads the Gulf Institute.

Mr. Al-Ahmad was referring to the power of clerics preaching Wahhabism, the puritan interpretation of Islam developed by 18th century preacher Mohammed ibn Abdul Al-Wahhab. Saudi Arabia’s ruling Al Saud family established the kingdom with the help of the Wahhabis who in return were granted the right to ensure that their views would dominate public life.

In a recent, unpublished survey by a Saudi scholar half of the young Saudi men interviewed said their priority was to have fun, go on a date, enjoy mixed gender parties, dress freely, and drive fast.

Recognizing the ambitions of Saudi youth, who account for much of the population, Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 acknowledged that ”we are well aware that the cultural and entertainment opportunities currently available do not reflect the rising aspirations of our citizens and residents, nor are they in harmony with our prosperous economy.”

Countering corruption and sanitizing soccer financially serves that purpose. It also could serve as a template for how Prince Mohammed introduces transparency and accountability in an economy in which members of the ruling family have long felt entitled and able to act with impunity.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a recently published book with the same title, and also just published Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Palestine threatens CAS claim over West Bank clubs (JMD quoted in Global Arbitration Review)

Tom Jones

25 November 2016
[Buy now]

Palestine threatens CAS claim over West Bank clubs(Wikimedia Commons)

In a statement to press earlier this month, Palestinian football chief Jibril Rajoub said he would file a claim at CAS unless FIFA agrees to relocate the teams when the world football body holds its council meeting next January.
“We will not give up. We will never accept any compromise,” he said.
The dispute centres on six football clubs playing in Israel’s lower divisions that are based in Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
The Palestinian FA says the location of the teams violates FIFA rules, which state that football clubs from FIFA member affiliates – such as the Israeli FA – may not play on the territory of other football associations without their permission.
Palestine considers the settlements to be built on its own territory, which is illegally occupied under international law. It argues that the clubs are playing there without the permission of the Palestinian FA, which has been recognised by FIFA since 1998.
FIFA has established a special monitoring committee – headed by South African anti-apartheid campaigner and former FIFA presidential candidate Tokyo Sexwale – to consider the complaints against the Israeli FA, but so far talks have proved unsuccessful.

This week Sexwale held meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the Israeli clubs based in the settlements, as well as the movement of footballers and football goods in and out of Palestinian territory.

Academic and journalist James Dorsey, the author of a blog entitled “The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer”, says the recent election of Donald Trump as US president is likely to give “reinforced impetus” to Palestinian plans to file at CAS.
“The indications are that Trump will reverse long-standing US policy that views the West Bank as occupied territory and the settlements as illegal. The question is then whether FIFA would issue a decision which is directly at odds with US policy”, he said.
Any filing at CAS would constitute a first testing of Palestine’s ability to fight its battle with Israel in international forums. The court’s handling of the issue could prove significant in light of Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in early 2015, which paves the way for war crimes prosecutions arising from its conflict with Israel.

It is not the first time the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has arisen in a sporting context. Earlier this year Scottish football club Glasgow Celtic was fined by the governing body of European football, UEFA, for displaying Palestinian flags in a Champions League qualifier against Israeli club Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Human Rights Watch and FIFA test Middle East fallout of Trump’s election

By James M. Dorsey

Human Rights Watch (HRW), in an initial probing of the impact of the rise of US President-elect Donald J. Trump, has asked the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights to include world soccer body FIFA in a registry of enterprises that do business with Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

The request is based on the fact that the Israel Football Association (IFA) organizes matches in Israeli settlements and allows six settlement teams to play in Israeli Leagues. The Palestine Football Association (PFA) backed by HRW has denounced the Israeli policy as a violation of FIFA policy that stipulates that teams can only play on the territory of another FIFA member with that member’s permission.

Like much of the international community, the PFA and HRW view Israeli settlements as illegal. In response, the IFA has argued that the settlements are disputed territory whose status has yet to be resolved in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Tokyo Sexwale, the head of a FIFA committee established to deal with Israeli-Palestinian soccer issues, is scheduled to visit Israel this week. Mr. Sexwale’s visit and the HRW request take on added significance in the wake of the rise of Mr. Trump.

Trump insiders have suggested that the president-elect would reverse long-standing US policy that has viewed the West Bank conquered by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war as occupied territory and Israeli settlements as illegal and has argued that they constitute an obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Israeli anticipation of a US policy that is far more empathetic to hard-line Israeli policy has already prompted an Israeli government committee to approve a draft bill that would legalize Jewish settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land. The bill is slated to go to the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, for the first of three separate readings and possible approval by the Supreme Court.

The bill suggests that Mr. Sexwale will find little traction in this week’s talks with Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev. FIFA’s governing council is scheduled to decide the fate of the settlement clubs in early January.  Mr. Sexwale has said that any such decision may need to be ratified by the FIFA Congress expected to be held in Bahrain in May.

The Israeli draft bill also suggests that Israel will be far less receptive to demands that it adhere to international law governing the status of occupied territory. Israeli perceptions are reinforced by reports that Mr. Trump intends to appoint Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee as his ambassador to Israel.

Mr. Huckabee, a staunch supporter of Israeli settlements and advocate of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a position espoused by Mr. Trump during his election campaign, denied that the president-elect had discussed his appointment during a meeting last week.

The HRW request builds not only on international law regarding the status of the West Bank as occupied territory but also on a decision by a Swiss government-sponsored unit of the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to classify FIFA as a multi-national bound by the group's guidelines rather than a non-governmental organization.

The request is also rooted in a report commissioned by FIFA in which John Ruggie, a Harvard professor and former UN Secretary-General special representative for business and human rights, that urges the soccer body to subscribe to the UN’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

With a US administration likely to be far more empathetic to Israeli policy than past US governments toward the West Bank, the HRW request fits Palestinian strategy that has in recent years increasingly focused on confronting Israel in international organizations and the possibility of challenging Israeli occupation in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

That strategy has so far produced mixed results. Mr. Sexwale’s committee was created last year after the PFA failed to garner sufficient votes to force FIFA to suspend Israel’s membership.

Mr. Trump’s election has moreover raised the prospect of a host of illiberal leaders potentially refusing to recognize international law. China refused to recognize an ICC ruling on the South China Sea even before Mr. Trump’s rise, Russia has since withdrawn from the ICC, and the Philippines has suggested that it may follow suit.

Mr. Trump’s rise is likely to give reinforced impetus to the PFA’s plans to go to the world’s top court for sports in a bid to force its Israeli counterpart to view Israeli settlements on the West Bank as occupied territory rather than an extension of the Jewish state. The move would constitute a first testing of Palestine’s ability to fight its battle with Israel in international courts.

The dynamics of the HRW request and the Palestinians’ strategy take on greater significance in the Trump era in which the United States itself may demonstrate greater disregard for international organizations and law.

A more pro-Israeli US policy could moreover complicate a willingness by Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, to openly engage with Israel based on a common interest oppose expanding Iranian influence in the Middle East and North Africa despite the Jewish state’s de facto rejection of Palestinian rights.

A IFA delegation will be attending the FIFA Congress in Bahrain, where the fate of Israeli settlement teams could ultimately be sealed. The presence of an Israeli delegation in a Gulf capital despite a Gulf ban on Israeli passport holders would follow the opening of an Israeli diplomatic mission in the United Arab Emirates accredited to the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency rather than the UAE government.

The rise of Mr. Trump potentially throws a monkey wrench into Middle Eastern politics, the fallout of which is uncertain. The rise of a more pro-Israeli US administration that projects Islamophobia and questions long-standing US policies and partnerships could complicate the Gulf’s more open alignment with Israel. Palestinian efforts backed by HRW to enforce international law on the soccer pitch may well offer an early indication of how the new winds blowing from Washington will play out in the Middle East and North Africa.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a recently published book with the same title, and also just published Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Qatari soft power efforts: two steps forward, one step backwards

By James M. Dorsey

Efforts to leverage Qatar’s 2022 World Cup hosting rights to create the soft power the Gulf state needs to punch above its weight and ensure a sympathetic hearing in the international community in times of emergency operate on the Leninist principle of two steps forward, one step backwards.

Take events this month as an example.

On the plus side, Qatar’s ambition to host not only the World Cup but also an Olympic Games was boosted with a declaration by Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that he was open to a renewed Qatari bid. Qatar’s last bid failed in part because of criticism of its controversial labour sponsorship or kafala system that restricts workers’ rights and puts them at the mercy of their employers.

Mr. Bach’s statement may well reflect the emergence of a world in which human and other rights count for less with the rise of President-elect Donald J, Trump in the United States and of illiberal, if not authoritarian leaders, in countries ranging from Russia, China and Turkey to Eastern Europe.

Mr. Bach could nonetheless come to regret his remark if predictions by Trump insiders prove correct that the new president, reluctant to confront Saudi Arabia head on, is likely to pick on Qatar as a state that plays both ends with its close alliance with the West and hosting of a major US military base while at the same time allegedly supporting militant Islamist and jihadist forces.

Also on the plus side, in a significant gesture to human rights groups and trade unions in a part of the world that refuses to engage with its critics, Qatar’s 2022 World Cup organizing committee and a major international trade union, Building and Wood Workers' International (BWI), agreed to launch unprecedented joint inspections of the working and living conditions of migrant workers involved in World Cup-related projects.

The agreement is intended to demonstrate Qatari sincerity in reforming the kafala system at a time that it is under fire for moving too slowly. Human rights and trade union activists have charged that Qatar is going through motions rather than embarking on truly substantive reform.

Yet, activists are unlikely to be satisfied even if the inspections prove that living and working conditions of World Cup-related migrant workers have substantially changed. The activists are demanding that far-reaching change be incorporated in national legislation applicable to all workers in the Gulf state and effectively enforced. Changes in national law expected by the end of this year are likely to fall short of activists’ expectations.

A 52-page Amnesty International report published earlier this month documented what it called “appalling” abuses of the rights of workers employed in the renovation of the Khalifa International Stadium. The Qatari World Cup organizing committee said most of the issues in the report that date back to last year have since been addressed.

Finally, Qatar’s willingness to entertain whatever degree of change and engage with its critics is prompting limited change and debate of the labour issue elsewhere in the Gulf. Prominent Saudi journalist Khaled Almaeena, a regime insider, in an article earlier this month denounced the kafala system as “slavery and ownership.’’

Mr. Almaeena was speaking from experience. “I was for 25 years the editor of the Arab News and for two years the Saudi Gazette, both English language Saudi newspapers. They were the eyes and ears of both Saudis and expatriates, probably more so of the latter. To them, we were a helpline. They wrote to us for advice, assistance, inquiries and support. Most of the letters dealt with working conditions, the breaking of contracts, unfair dismissals and unjust accusations…. There was no recourse to legal aid…” he wrote.

On the minus side, the backlash of the rise of illiberal leaders, the decline of concepts of tolerance and human rights, and a wave of conservatism, if not ultra-conservatism, are making themselves felt.

Qatar University this month cancelled a lecture on women in Islam by prominent Saudi women’s activist Hatoon Al Fassi, a member of the university’s faculty as well as that of Saudi Arabia’s King Saud, after faculty and students demanded on Twitter that she be sacked for challenging Qatari and Islamic values.

Similarly, the Qatari World Cup committee, in a further indication that Qatar may be backtracking on promises, said that current restrictions on alcohol consumption would be upheld during the World Cup. Qatar had earlier said that venues for alcohol consumption would be expanded from hotel bars to specific locations around the country during the tournament.

Not that alcohol is the litmus test of a successful Qatari World given that the tournament may attract a different demography with far more fans from the Middle East, North Africa and the Muslim world who care less about alcohol than their Western counterparts.

Reinforcing perceptions of wrongdoing in Qatar’s World Cup bid, world soccer body FIFA, banned Saoud al-Mohannadi, the vice president of Qatar’s 2022 committee, for one year for refusing to help in a corruption investigation. The ban dashed Mr. Al-Mohannadi’s ambition to become vice-president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) and ultimately of FIFA’s governing council

Finally, in a bow to Saudi intolerance of any criticism, Qatar this month fired Jaber Salim Al-Harmi, the editor of Al Sharq newspaper, for tweeting that “other (Gulf) countries slash their citizens’ salaries, while Qatar increases wages. We thank Allah Almighty first and foremost then we thank our leadership which uses national resources for its people’s welfare.”

Mr. Al-Harmi’s comment hit at austerity measures across the Gulf, but particularly in Saudi Arabia, that effectively rewrite social contracts under which citizens enjoyed state-provided cradle-to-grave welfare in exchange for surrendering political rights.

Saudi Arabia has been particularly hard hit with stark increases of utility prices and mass layoffs. Qatar this month promised by contrast that it would raise by up to 100 percent the salaries of government employees, the bulk of the Gulf state’s indigenous labour force.

At the bottom line, Qatar’s massive investment in sports as a soft power tool has yet to withstand a cost-benefit litmus test. Without doubt, Qatar has enacted changes that put it among Gulf states in a class of its own. Yet, it has yet to convince many that those changes are only the beginning of a process that will ultimately lead to true reform.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a recently published book with the same title, and also just published Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Qatar calls into question its sincerity in pushing World Cup-driven reform

By James M. Dorsey

For much of the last six years since winning the hosting rights of the 2022 World Cup, Qatar appeared to be taking a slow and torturous path towards some degree of reform. Yet, in an increasingly conservative world in which human rights are put on the backburner, fears among rights and trade union activists that lofty Qatari promises of labour reform and some degree of greater liberalism may not be much more than just lofty undertakings appear to be gaining steam.

To be sure, the controversial awarding of the hosting rights has contributed to more open discussion in Qatar of hitherto taboo subjects including the rights of workers who constitute the vast majority of the population of the tiny, energy-rich Gulf state; the definition of Qatari identity; what rights, if any, non-Qataris should have in obtaining Qatari citizenship; and the rights and social position of women and gays.

A 28-year old Qatari, in the latest pushing of the envelope that brings into the open issues that in the past were kept private because of Qataris’ sense of privacy and family honour, earlier this month decried in an article in Doha News that government policy denies young men and women the right to marry the person of their choice.

Writing under the pseudonym Yousef, the young Qatari described how he was forced to divorce his wife of East European origin after the government refused to sanction the marriage and give his spouse a residence permit because she was not a Muslim even though she had converted.

“Our marriage changed me. It took me outside my bubble, and made me question our culture’s values. I didn’t understand why, for example, we Qatari men are allowed to go to clubs where alcohol is served, but at the same time the committee was telling me that my wife’s culture and traditions did not fit ours. This was not making any sense to me,” Yousef wrote.

“I feel that the Qatari government is playing with people’s lives. It hurt to see my country talking about human rights on the global stage, but then denying citizens the right to marry whoever they choose. I want to know why my request was refused. Was it because my family isn’t important enough? Do we not know the right people? I know plenty of Qatari men married to foreign women who got their approval in less than a month, just because they know someone in the government. And why is it ok to marry a second wife or a third wife, but refuse a man permission to marry just one? he added.

Yousef ultimately came to the conclusion that “I will have to leave Qatar and live abroad if I want to get married to a foreigner. I hate that it has to be like that. I love my country. I don’t want to leave Qatar or leave my family, but what options do I have?”

Like the rights of migrant workers caught in a sponsorship system that puts them at the mercy of their employers, Yousef’s plight goes to the heart of Qatar’s most existential problem: the viability of a demography in which the citizenry accounts for a mere 12 percent of the population and fears that any change will endanger their grip on their society, culture and state.

Six years into the preparations for the 2022 World Cup, the belief among many activists as well as world soccer body FIFA officials that Qatar’s stark demographic reality was forcing it to move slowly on reforming, if not abolishing the sponsorship or kafala system is wearing thin.

To be sure, Qatar in the wake of the awarding of the World Cup and in contrast to other Gulf states initially cooperated with it critics who took it to task for the labour and living conditions of workers constructing World Cup-related infrastructure. The Qatari 2022 committee as well as a few other major Qatari organizations adopted standards and model contracts in cooperation with the likes of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

New measures designed to streamline and curtail abuse of the sponsorship or kafala system are scheduled to come into law before the end of the year. The measures fall short however of granting workers’ basic rights.

Against the backdrop of a recent Amnesty report that counters assertions of the Qatari committee that it is applying the standards but cannot enforce them on non-World Cup contractors, FIFA is likely to take on more direct responsibility for the issue and come under greater pressure regarding the labour issue.

With a Dutch trade union taking FIFA to court in Switzerland on the issue of labour rights in the Gulf state, the soccer body has announced that starting with the Qatar World Cup it would scrap local organising committees for its flagship event.

The 52-page Amnesty report listed eight ways in which World Cup workers employed for the showcase Khalifa International Stadium were still being abused and exploited. It charged that despite efforts to the contrary workers still pay absorbent recruitment fees, live in appalling conditions, are lured to Qatar with false salary and job promises, do not get paid on time, cannot freely leave Qatar or change jobs, and are threatened by employers when they dare complain.

The Qatari 2022 Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy asserted in a statement that “challenges in worker conditions existing during early 2015” that had been identified by Amnesty had largely been addressed by June of this year. It said the problems involved four of some 40 companies involved in work on the Khalifa stadium and that three of those firms had been banned

“The tone of Amnesty International’s latest assertions paint a misleading picture and do nothing to contribute to our efforts. We have always maintained this World Cup will act as a catalyst for change — it will not be built on the back of exploited workers. We wholly reject any notion that Qatar is unfit to host the World Cup,” the statement said.

The Qatari committee, in a further indication that Qatar may be backtracking on promises, said that current restrictions on alcohol consumption would be upheld during the World Cup. Qatar had earlier said that venues for alcohol consumption would be expanded from hotel bars to specific locations around the country during the tournament.

Not that alcohol is the litmus test of a successful Qatari World. The tournament moreover may attract a different demography with far more fans from the Middle East, North Africa and the Muslim world who care less about alcohol than their Western counterparts.

Nonetheless, the backtracking on alcohol coupled with increasingly strained Qatari relations with human rights groups and trade unions, and the snail pace of labour reform casts a shadow on Qatari sincerity.

Qatar may well feel that the rise of populist leaders across the globe could reduce pressure on it to embark on real reform. That could be true. Yet, by the same token, populist leaders who ride a wave of nationalism may also have to also be seen to be standing up for the rights of their nationals working in foreign lands.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a recently published book with the same title, and also just published Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Reformist Saudi prince bounces up against flawed education system and ingrained social mores

By James M. Dorsey

An unpublished survey of aspirations of young Saudi men suggests that garnering enthusiasm for Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud’s vision of the kingdom’s social and economic future, let alone a buy in, is likely to meet resistance without a hitherto lacking effort to win support.

Obstacles to get broad-based acceptance of social changes involved in Vision 2030, the prince’s masterplan for the future published in April, are rooted in the cloaking of ultra-conservative tribal mores in Islamic legitimization by the kingdom’s religious scholars. They also stem from a flawed education system that fails to impart critical thinking and analytical skills.

“People were not interested in political change or reform. They wanted social change but they pull back when they realize this has consequences for their sisters. Their analytical ability and critical thinking is limited,… If you look at Twitter, people don’t know how to argue. They don’t have the patience for discussion. They live in a bubble… If people would do what they talk about on Twitter, angels would shake their hands. They talk about an ideal world…but reality is totally different,” said Saudi scholar Abdul Al Lily, author of a recent book on rules that govern Saudi culture. Mr. Al Lily surveyed 100 Saudi men all of who were approximately 20 years old.

Saudi Arabia has one of the world’s highest Twitter penetrations and features ultra-conservative religious scholars with millions of followers. Twitter constitutes a relatively less controlled arena in a country in which all physical and virtual public space is tightly controlled. Saudi Arabia this month announced efforts on the Internet “to protect the social and economic system of the country… (and) the society from any violations on the security and mental levels.”

Saudi Arabia’s Shura or Advisory Council, in another setback to potential reform, this month rejected initiating a review of the kingdom’s ban on women’s driving.

Some 50 percent of those surveyed by Mr. Al Lily said they wanted to have fun, go on a date, enjoy mixed gender parties, dress freely, and be able to drive fast, Mr. Al Lily said. He said issues of political violence, racism, international interests or the dragged out Saudi war in neighbouring Yemen did not figure in their answers.

The young men’s aspirations challenged the core culture of a country that enforces strict gender segregation and dress codes and struggles with concepts of fun. Ultra-conservatives and militant Islamists see fun as a potential threat to political and social control. That is particularly true with regard to youth who in the words sociologists Asef Bayat and Linda Herrera have “a greater tendency for experimentation, adventurism, idealism, drive for autonomy, mobility, and change.”

Bayat noted separately that “whereas the elderly poor can afford simple, traditional, and contained diversions, the globalized and affluent youth tend to embrace more spontaneous, erotically charged, and commodified pleasures. This might help explain why globalizing youngsters more than others cause fear and fury among Islamist (and non-Islamist) anti-fun adversaries, especially when much of what these youths practice is informed by Western technologies of fun and is framed in terms of Western cultural import… In other words, at stake is not necessarily the disruption of the moral order, as often claimed, but rather the undermining of the hegemony, the regime of power on which certain strands of moral and political authority rest.”

It is these fundamental attitudes, that Prince Mohammed, in a bid to upgrade Saudi autocracy and bring it into the 21st century, is seeking to tweak.” We are well aware that the cultural and entertainment opportunities currently available do not reflect the rising aspirations of our citizens and residents, nor are they in harmony with our prosperous economy. It is why we will support the efforts of regions, governorates, non-profit and private sectors to organize cultural events,” Vision 2030 said.

Prince Mohammed may have been jumping the gun when he recently greeted journalist and author Karen Elliott House with the words “Welcome to the new Saudi Arabia” as they watched the LED-lit bodies of New York dancers gyrating on a Riyadh arena stage to deafening hip-hop music. Some 1,300 Saudis of all ages—robed men and abaya-covered women sat side by side whooping their approval.

Mr. Al Lily’s interviewees however pulled back when confronted with the notion that liberties they wanted would also apply to their womenfolk. “People ended up not doing anything when confronted with the idea that someone might want to go on a date with their sister. They pulled back when they realized the consequences,” Mr. Al Lily said.

A recent Saudi television cultural show mocked the attitude of young Saudi men demanding greater freedoms. It portrayed two young men who told their wife and sister that they were going to Mecca although they had bought airline tickets to Cairo for a few days of fun. When the two women detected their menfolk’s deception, they decided to follow them. Sitting in a nightclub in Cairo, the two men poked fun at two women who entered fully covered from top to bottom. “They must be Saudis. How did their brothers let them travel?” said one of the men to the other, not realizing that they were looking at their sister and wife.

Mr. Al Lily argues that to succeed, Prince Mohammed will have to sell Vision 2030 to the youth of a country in which Under-21s account for an estimated 60 percent of the population. Few of those interviewed by Mr. Ali as well as many of his academic colleagues had read the document.

“The issue is how Saudis perceive change,” Mr. Al Lily said. He likened Vision 2030 to the wind in a Saudi proverb that says: “If there is a door that might bring wind, close the door.”

Saudi attitudes towards change are in Mr. Al Lily’s view stand-offish. “People don’t believe in change… The government doesn’t have a plan to sell Vision 2030.  In addition, it has at least partially been drafted by foreigners. All of this is important. Implementing it will not be easy,” Mr. Al Lily said.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a recently published book with the same title, and also just published Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Creating a legal precedent: Palestine considers suing Israel in international sports court

By James M. Dorsey

The Palestine Football Association (PFA), in a first testing of Palestine’s ability to fight its battle with Israel in international courts, plans to go to the world’s top court for sports in a bid to force its Israeli counterpart to view Israeli settlements on the West Bank as occupied territory rather than an extension of the Jewish state.

The potential Palestinian move follows the Palestinian Authority’s campaign to isolate Israel in international organizations and challenge Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Using soccer as a testing ground, Palestine’s efforts to confront Israel in international organizations has produced mixed results. While Palestine succeeded in joining various international organizations, the PFA last year failed to muster sufficient votes to persuade world soccer body FIFA to suspend Israel. The PFA argued that the policies of the Israeli government and the Israel Football Association (IFA) violated FIFA rules as well as international law governing the status of occupied territory.

The PFA has since been unable to push FIFA towards any punitive steps against Israel. Instead, FIFA opted to monitor developments and attempt with little success to negotiate a way out of the impasse. Palestine is expected to take legal recourse if FIFA fails to take more decisive action at its next council meeting in January.

The PFA’s focus since failing to get Israel suspended has been on banning six clubs that are based in Israeli settlements on the West Bank from playing in Israeli lower divisions. FIFA rules stipulate that clubs based in a recognized federation’s territory cannot play in leagues of another soccer association without the permission of the home federation. The PFA rejects the notion of granting permission because it believes that it would legitimize Israeli settlements and the occupation.

PFA President Jibril Rajoub suggested that the PFA would take its case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after a seven-hour meeting earlier this month of a FIFA committee headed by Tokyo Sexwale failed to resolve the issue.

Mr. Sexwale is scheduled to visit Israel later this month for a meeting with Israeli sports minister Miri Regev. The FIFA Council is scheduled to discuss the issue at its next meeting in January. The PFA is likely to prepare its case for CAS, but wait with filing it until after the January meeting.

Israel sees the Palestinian demands and threat as strengthening the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) that sees penalization as a means of forcing the Jewish state to alter its policies and ultimately withdraw from territory occupied during the 1967 Middle East war.
Condemnation of the Israeli occupation and settlements by the United Nations Security Council constitutes the legal basis for the PFA’s approach as well as potential challenges in international courts.

The strength of the Palestinian position has been weakened changing Gulf attitudes towards Israel and Saudi and United Arab Emirates pressure on Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. Gulf states, despite paying lip service to the Palestinian cause, have become more public about their informal relations with Israel based on common opposition to expanding Iranian influence in the region.

Writing in the kingdom’s controlled press, a prominent Saudi journalist went as far as calling for the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. The UAE last year agreed to the opening of an Israeli diplomatic mission accredited to the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency rather than the UAE government. Bahrain, as part of an agreement to host next year’s FIFA congress, has consented to issue visas to representatives of the IFA. Israeli nationals are barred from travelling to Gulf countries.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been pressuring Mr. Abbas to resolve his differences with Mohammed Dahlan, the controversial former Abu Dhabi-based Gaza strongman who is an archenemy of the Palestinian president. Mr. Dahlan is widely seen as a successor to 81-year old Mr. Abbas, who would be acceptable to Israel.

Israel may be able to count on some degree of tacit Gulf support within FIFA but is likely nonetheless to ultimately have to be seen to be accepting some kind of compromise that throws a bone to the Palestinians.

The Palestinians’ focus on the Israeli West Bank teams has however raised the bar for Israel. An agreement between Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and former FIFA president Sepp Blatter struck last year addresses many of the PFA’s grievances but not the issue of six the West Bank teams. Their status goes to the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: the legal status of territory occupied by Israel since 1967.

Under the agreement, Mr. Netanyahu proposed to give Palestinian players special identity cards and place sports liaison officials at crossings between Palestinian areas and those under Israeli control in a bid to eliminate obstacles to free movement that complicated the development of Palestinian soccer. Mr. Netanyahu further suggested to create an escort service that would facilitate players’ travel between the West Bank and Gaza that are separated by Israeli territory.

Israel initially appeared to live up to its promises by granting for the first time in 15 years, a West Bank team, Hebron’s Al Ahli, passage to Gaza to play a Palestine Cup final against the strip’s Al Shejaia. Hopes that this signalled a new beginning were however dashed when the PFA cancelled the return match in Hebron after Israel agreed to grant passage to only 33 of the 37 players who were scheduled to travel. Implementation of the agreement has since evaporated.

The PFA, by putting the West Bank teams at the top of their agenda, has made it tougher for FIFA and Israel to work out a compromise that would not have implications for the future of Israeli-Palestinian peace making. Israeli is likely to want to avoid subjecting its policies to the scrutiny of an international court. Yet, that may be exactly what would best serve the Palestine Authority’s overall strategy.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a recently published book with the same title, and also just published Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario.

Friday, November 4, 2016


By Daniel Malloy


execution on July 14, 2016, in Manila, Philippines.
Because the war is not going away.

“The human-rights people will commit suicide if I finish these all,” President Rodrigo Duterte reportedly said on Thursday, waving a fat dossier filled with names of alleged drug criminals and “narco-politicians” in the Philippines. The next day, a small-town mayor who’d earlier been named as a drug suspect was shot dead by police.
Farewell, due process — and say hello to Duterte’s little friend. The new president of the Philippines has appalled many in the West with his brutal and often extrajudicial war on alleged drug dealers. But in much of Asia and the Middle East, the get-tough posture of “The Punisher” is rather more familiar. In September, Indonesia’s antidrug chief called drug dealers’ lives “meaningless” and pledged all-out war on narcotics. In October, Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen vowed a crackdown on his country’s “booming” drug trade after a chat with Duterte. When Duterte visited Beijing in October, China praised his drug policies.
I want more intensive, braver, crazier and more comprehensive integrated efforts to eradicate drugs.
While nearby leaders distance themselves from some of Duterte’s more grisly tactics, they are taking note of his aggression in tackling a problem they find on their own shores — and of Duterte’s popularity at home. The closed-door talk at a recent regional leaders’ summit in Laos was hardly the kind of condemnation Duterte gets from the West, according to Philippines Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay. “They were praising his toughness,” Yasay said in a September television interview. “This is how they felt the war against drugs will be won.”
There is bountiful evidence to the contrary. In Mexico, President Felipe Calderón took office a decade ago and sent the military into the streets to battle drug cartels. The homicide rate spiked, and still the drugs continue to flow. In Thailand, cited as a Duterte model, a 2003 crackdown on the methamphetamine trade included hundreds of apparent extrajudicial killings, according to Human Rights Watch. The nation’s prisons remain severely overcrowded, and drug use is rampant. Both Mexico and Thailand now are discussing scaling back punitive drug laws.
Indeed, a divide in regional approaches to drugs is widening. At an April U.N. summit, for instance, the global community seemed to be inching toward de-escalation, with Western nations decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana while emphasizing treatment over punishment for addicts of harder stuff. But amid the diplomatese, a schism was apparent. “When you looked at the debates, you could see a growing division between countries in the world around what kind of approach should be taken to drugs — and perhaps most divisive was on the death penalty,” says Gloria Lai, senior policy officer for the International Drug Policy Consortium. “Europe and Latin America called for the death penalty to be abolished for drugs. Then a small group from Asia and the Middle East made a stand and said they had a right. It was because of the principles of sovereignty. It was for state governments themselves to decide.”
Indonesia, for one, is following the Philippines’ lead. Mild-mannered President Joko Widodo shocked many last year when he brought back executions for drug offenders. He claims 40 to 50 young Indonesians die each day from drugs, a figure called into doubt by academics. Early this year — before Duterte was elected — Widodo declared: “I want more intensive, braver, crazier and more comprehensive integrated efforts to eradicate drugs.” Widodo and Duterte are on good terms, and when they met, Duterte said he would not interfere in Indonesia’s planned execution of a Filipino drug dealer. Widodo’s drug czar, Budi Waseso, lauds Duterteism and says he would appreciate a shoot-to-kill policy himself. (Waseso also has proposed a crocodile-filled moat to surround prisons, because crocs can’t be bribed like human guards.) While extrajudicial killings are not proliferating in Indonesia, the international bromance is “disturbing,” says Ricky Gunawan, an Indonesia-based human-rights lawyer, “because it only strengthens the false positive sense that punitive approaches to drugs will solve drug problems.”
President Joko Widodo of Indonesia arrives at the G20 Summit in September.
But crackdowns often are good politics. A recent poll showed 76 percent of the Philippines satisfied with Duterte, with 11 percent dissatisfied. Phelim Kine, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, says public approval comes from desperation. The Philippines’ slow-moving and corrupt justice system fosters acceptance of extrajudicial killing “among Filipinos who sense that government and the judicial system [are] part of the problem, not the solution,” he says.
Elsewhere, the killings mostly occur within the system. Amnesty International recorded more executions in 2015 than in any year since 1989, many for drug-related offenses, and the figures do not include what is assumed to be thousands more in secretive China. Many of the strictest societies are in the Middle East, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, where nearly half of all recent executions were for drug crimes. Nevertheless, the region does not embrace Duterte’s brand of authority. James Dorsey, a Middle East and North Africa expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, notes there are no rampant extrajudicial killings in the Middle East, and the leader known as Duterte Harry stands out because he targets users as well as dealers. “You can question how much due process and rule of law there is in Middle Eastern countries,” Dorsey says, “but there’s certainly more than there is in the Philippines.”
·       Daniel Malloy, OZY Author

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Taking on militants: A fight for the soul of Pakistan

By James M. Dorsey
Two high-level meetings in recent months involving senior military commanders and intelligence officials and/or top-level government representatives spotlight Pakistan’s difficulty in coming to grips with domestic and regional political violence resulting from decades of support of militant Islamist and jihadist groups for foreign policy and ideological reasons. Overcoming those difficulties could determine Pakistan’s future, the nature of its society and its place in the world.
The first of those meeting was a gathering in August of Pakistani military commanders in the wake of a massive bombing in Quetta that killed some 70 people and wiped out a generation of lawyers in the province of Baluchistan. The commanders concluded that the attack constituted a sinister foreign-inspired plot that aimed to thwart their effort to root out political violence. Their analysis stroked with their selective military campaign aimed at confronting specific groups like the Pakistani Taliban and the Sunni-Muslim Lashkar-e-Jhangvi rather than any organization that engages in political violence and/or targets minorities.
The commanders’ approach failed to acknowledge the real lesson of Quetta: decades of Pakistani military and intelligence support underwritten by funding from Saudi Arabia for sectarian and ultra-conservative groups and religious schools in Pakistan that has divided the country almost irreversibly. Generations of religious students have their critical faculties stymied by rote learning and curricula dominated by memorization of exclusionary beliefs and prejudice resulting in bigotry and misogyny woven into the fabric of Pakistani society.
“The enemy within is not a fringe... Large sections of society sympathize with these groups. They fund them, directly and indirectly. They provide them recruits. They reject the Constitution and the system. They don’t just live in the ‘bad lands’ but could be our neighbours. The forces have not only to operate in areas in the periphery, along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, but have also to operate in the cities where hundreds, perhaps thousands form sleeper cells, awaiting orders or planning to strike,” said Pakistani columnist Ejaz Haider in a recent commentary.
Top Pakistani political leaders echoed Mr. Haider’s sentiment in a second meeting in October that gathered the country’s civilian and military leadership around the table. Reporting in Dawn, Pakistan’s foremost English-language newspaper, on differences between the civilian and military components of the state, united politicians and officers in their denials of differences and prompted a government investigation into what it alleged was a false and inaccurate story.
Dawn, standing by the accuracy of its story, reported that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other government ministers had warned their military and intelligence counterparts that key elements of the country’s two-year old national action plan to eradicate political violence and sectarianism, including enforcing bans on designated groups, reforming madrassas, and empowering the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) had not been implemented. The 20-point plan was adopted after militants had attacked a military school in Peshawar in December 2014, killing 141 people, including 132 students. 
In a blunt statement during the meeting, Foreign Minister Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry charged, according to Dawn, that Pakistan risked international isolation if it failed to crack down on militant groups, including Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashkar-e-Taiba; and the Haqqani network – all designated as terrorist groups by the United Nations. Mr. Chaudhry noted that Pakistan’s closest ally, China, with its massive $46 billion investment in Pakistani infrastructure, continued to block UN sanctioning of Jaish-i-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar, but was increasingly questioning the wisdom of doing so.
The State Bank of Pakistan announced barely two weeks after the meeting announced that it was freezing the accounts of more than 2,000 people associated with political violence, including the leaders of anti-Shiite and anti-Ahmadi groups supported by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan’s military and intelligence agency. Not mentioned in the bank’s list of targeted people were those associated with groups such as Jamat-ud-Dawa (JuD), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and Hizbul Mujahideen (HuM), whose main focus is Kashmir.
The absence of those groups signalled the military and intelligence’s ability to safeguard the fundamentals of their strategic support of militant groups and the inability of the civilian government to impose its will. The government moreover is divided with some ministers being more supportive of links to militants. And even if there were a unified will to crack down on militants, the bank’s measure would at best be a drop in a bucket. Most of the funds available to militant groups are either not in bank deposits or, if they are, not in accounts belonging to the groups’ leaders.
In many ways, Mr. Sharif’s effort to force the military and intelligence’s hand has a sense of déjà vu. A similar attempt by Mr. Sharif when he was prime minister in the late 1990s ended with his overthrow in a coup, initial imprisonment and ultimate exile for a decade. Mr. Sharif in cohorts with his loyal intelligence chief, Lieutenant General Khawaja Ziauddin, tried to convince Taliban leader Mullah Omar to handover Osama Bin Laden and stop Saudi-backed anti-Shiite militants of Sipah-e-Sabaha from attacking the minority in Pakistan from Afghan territory without consulting the military.
In response, Chief of Staff General Mohammed Aziz Khan and Islamist politician Fazl ur Rahman held separate talks with Omar in which they made clear to the Taliban leader who controlled the Pakistani levers of power and persuaded him to ignore Mr, Sharif’s request. Mr. Sharif’s effort was one reason for the 1999 military coup that led to his initial imprisonment and subsequent decade-long exile.
Leaders of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the latest guise of Sipah after it was nominally banned, in a rare set of lengthy interviews prior to the bank’s announcement, had little compunction about detailing their close ties to Pakistani state institutions and Saudi Arabia. They were also happy to discuss the fact that both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were pushing them to repackage their sectarian policies in a public relations effort rather than a fundamental shift that would steer Pakistan towards a more tolerant, inclusive society.
“The Saudis sent huge amounts often through Pakistani tycoons who had a long-standing presence in Saudi Arabia as well as operations in the UK and Canada and maintained close relations with the Al Saud family and the Saudi business community. One of them gave 100 million rupees a year. We had so much money, it didn’t matter what things cost,” said a co-founder of Sipah.
Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat leader Ahmad Ludhyvani, a meticulously dressed Muslim scholar whose accounts are among those blocked, speaking in his headquarters protected by Pakistani security forces in the city of Jhang, noted that Sipah as the group is still commonly referred to and Saudi Arabia both opposed Shiite Muslim proselytization even if Sipah served Pakistani rather than Saudi national interests.
“Some things are natural. It’s like when two Pakistanis meet abroad or someone from Jhang meets another person from Jhang in Karachi. It’s natural to be closest to the people with whom we have similarities… We are the biggest anti-Shia movement in Pakistan. We don’t see Saudi Arabia interfering in Pakistan,” Ludhyvani said over a lunch of chicken, vegetables and rice.
The soft-spoken politician defended his group’s efforts in Parliament to get a law passed that would uphold the dignity of the Prophet Mohammed and his companions. The law would effectively serve as a stepping stone for institutionalization of anti-Shiite sentiment much like a Saudi-inspired Pakistani constitutional amendment in 1974 that declared Ahmadis non-Muslim. As a result, all applicants for a Pakistani passport are forced to sign an anti-Ahmadi oath.
Sipah officials said a Pakistani cleric resident in Makkah who heads the international arm of Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwat (AMTKN), a militant anti-Ahmadi Pakistan-based group, closely affiliated with Sipah, acts as a major fundraiser for the group.
Sipah put Pakistani and Saudi support on public display when it last year hosted a dinner in Islamabad’s prestigious Marriot Hotel for Abdallah Ben Abdel Mohsen Al-Turki, a former Saudi religious affairs minister and general secretary of the Muslim World League, a major Saudi vehicle for the funding of ultra-conservative and militant groups. Hundreds of guests, including Pakistani ministers and religious leaders designated as terrorists by the United States attended the event at the expense of the Saudi embassy in the Pakistani capital.
The corrosive impact of such support for groups preaching intolerance and sectarian hatred is mirrored in recent controversy over the Council of Islamic Ideology, whose offices are ironically located on Islamabad’s Ataturk Avenue, that was created to ensure that Pakistani legislation complies with Islamic Law. The Council has condemned co-education in a country whose non-religious public education system fails to impose mandatory school attendance and produces uncritical minds similar to those emerging from thousands of madrasahs run by ultra-conservatives and those advocating jihadist thinking.
The Council declared in 2014 that a man did not need his wife’s consent to marry a second, third or fourth wife and that DNA of a rape victim did not constitute conclusive evidence. This year, it defended the right of a husband to “lightly beat” his wife. It also forced the withdrawal of a proposal to ban child marriages, declaring the draft bill un-Islamic and blasphemous.
Continued official acquiescence and open support for intolerance, misogyny and sectarianism calls into question the sincerity of government and military efforts to curb without exception intolerance and political violence. The result is a country whose social fabric and tradition of tolerance is being fundamentally altered in ways that could take a generation to reverse.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a recently published book with the same title, and also just published Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario